Iraqi security forces and Kurdish pesh merga fighters have begun an assault to dislodge Islamic State militants from the city of Mosul. Here are some reasons the city is strategically and symbolically vital.
POPULATION Mosul, once home to more than two million residents, was the biggest prize captured by the Islamic State. It gave the group its best claim to legitimacy as an Islamic caliphate, and it has been its most vital source of tax revenue and forced labor.
RELIEF If recaptured, the city could eventually welcome back hundreds of thousands of people who were displaced. It is also where hundreds of enslaved Yazidi women and children are thought to be held.
CULTURE Mosul is an ancient Assyrian city and a vital center of antiquities and historical sites threatened by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. The city’s heritage makes it central to Iraqi identity and hopes that the country might again move forward as a multicultural society.